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Gamasutra's Best Of 2010: Top 5 Unexpected Gaming Events

Gamasutra's Best Of 2010: Top 5 Unexpected Gaming Events

December 27, 2010 | By Chris Morris

December 27, 2010 | By Chris Morris
More: Console/PC

[In a light-hearted post-Christmas countdown, Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris examines the unexpected moments of 2010 in gaming, from Justice Kagan on Mortal Kombat to Panasonic's Jungle.]

Talk about a topsy-turvy year. The video game industry has weathered its share of good and bad in 2010, but what made things really interesting were the completely unexpected moments " things we could never have predicted, no matter how many clues we were given.

From THQ’s decision to launch an experimental pricing strategy that could lob $20 off the price of games if it’s successful, to the return of a circus-like E3 environment (topped by Activision’s Lollapalooza-like concert), there were plenty of shocking moments in 2010.

We’ve tried to narrow things down to the five biggest surprises " but we suspect you’ve got a few ideas that didn’t occur to us. Sound off in the comments below.

5. Justice Kagan Shocks The Court

The November U.S. Supreme Court hearing centering on whether the sale of violent video games to children should be regulated was serious business. A ruling in the wrong direction could have significant financial and creative effects on game publishers and developers.

The scariest part for gamers, though, was that none of the Justices seemed to fit the gamer demographic " and many seemed to think that Postal 2 was representative of the entire industry.

But when Justice Elena Kagan shifted her questioning away from that title and onto the stalwart fighting game Mortal Kombat, it was California’s attorney whose mouth was agape.

“You think Mortal Kombat is prohibited by this statute?,” she asked out of the blue.

“I believe it’s a candidate Your Honor, but I haven't played the game and been exposed to it sufficiently to judge for myself,” Morazzini replied after a short pause.

“It's a candidate,” she quickly followed up, “meaning, yes, a reasonable jury could find that Mortal Kombat, which is an iconic game, which I am sure half of the clerks who work for us spend considerable amounts of time in their adolescence playing…”

4. Nintendo’s Weird Timing

For months, Nintendo carefully built up the hype for the DSi XL. It was a product that faced a bit of an uphill battle to begin with, as it was yet another tweak of the aging DS line.

But the company hoped the update would goose consumer demand and the larger screen would make the handheld device more appealing to a wider audience.

Then, one week before the product launched in the US, Nintendo pulled the rug out from under it " announcing it was working on a 3D handheld gaming system that didn’t require users to wear special glasses, which would be out in less than a year. The announcement, in short, sent the message to U.S. buyers of the $190 Nintendo DSi XL that they were buying technology that would quickly be outdated.

Looming press leaks in Japan (and Nintendo’s desire to control the news) were the likely reason for the ill-timed announcement, but it still had people scratching their heads.

3. The Return Of An Old Friend

Long-suffering fans of the Duke Nukem franchise were just about at the end of the grieving process for Duke Nukem Forever when Gearbox Software shocked the world at Penny Arcade Expo this year.

Assumed dead after the rapid and ugly demise of 3D Realms, the game had been secretly purchased by Gearbox and will be out in 2011. Fans rejoiced, and doubters looked at the playable footage in amazement.

The general consensus among those who played was that the game was actually a hell of a lot of fun, as Randy Pitchford told us "...where we’re at now is a drama free world, where everyone is focused on making it work". We’ll find out in the coming months.

2. Hollywood Turns To The Classics

Movies and TV shows based on video games are nothing new. Tomb Raider, Resident Evil and Prince of Persia have all had their time on the big and small screen. But 2010 was the year the lunatics seemingly took over the asylum.

First, in July, came word that Universal Studios had won a bidding war " a bidding war, mind you! " for the film rights to the Asteroids video game. Disney writer Matthew Lopez (Bedtime Stories, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) will pen the script, while Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers, GI Joe, Doom) is producing.

Then, as if things couldn’t get stranger, at E3 super-producer Avi Arad (former CEO of Marvel Studios and now executive adviser for Namco Bandai) announced plans to bring Pac-Man back to TV " and in 3D, no less.

The plot centered on ghosts trying to overtake Pac-Man's world. It's up to Pac-Man, who's a high school student, to save the world. In this mission, he'll be assisted by his Pac-friends and four friendly ghosts -- Pinky, Inky, Blinky and Clyde (who were the little guy's archenemies in the original arcade game).

"We feel we have a unique opportunity to have an action adventure, human interest story," Arad told me for a Variety story. "As a filmmaker, it's a unique opportunity to get to know the characters you play. … We don't know what happened to Pac-Man's parents. He's the only yellow one in Pac-Land; what does that mean? Is it a social statement? We'll find out."

1. It’s A Jungle Out There

Apple is a growing force in the handheld market. Nintendo has been seeing its DS sales diminish rapidly. And Sony’s PSP is almost an afterthought. The competition is tougher than it has ever been.

So what better time for a company that knows virtually nothing about the modern gaming space -- Panasonic -- to jump in, right?

In October, the company unveiled 'The Jungle' " a handheld device that it said would make MMOs portable. Problem was: The design was horrible and the idea was dim-witted. And reactions from gamers, analysts and most gaming insiders ranged from skeptical and indifferent at best to howls of hysterical laughter at worst.

Panasonic remains resolute, though. The company began public testing of the device late last month, insisting: "We know other companies out there have traditional hand-held gaming covered... We’re doing something very different." We'll... see how they do?

[Previously in our end-of-year round-up: Top 10 Games of the Year, Top 5 Downloadable Games, Top 5 Cult Games, Top 5 Handheld Games, Top 5 PC Games, Top 10 Indie Games, Top 5 Developers, Top 5 Trends, Top 5 Major Industry Events, Top 5 Surprises, Top 5 Disappointments, Top 5 Controversies, and Most Anticipated Games Of 2011.]

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